While Laredo Bucks’ new head coach Serge Dube assembles and prepares his time for the approaching season, general manager Nicole Kupaks and team president Donald Thomson are hard at work in the front office putting everything else in place to make sure the coming year is a successful one.
“It’s a pivotal year with a whole new coach, a whole new direction,” said Thomson.
In the wake of an offseason filled with uncertainty and doubt, every facet of the Bucks organization knows it needs to step up its game this year to prove it can be a profitable, viable organization.
“We need to show we’re stable,” Kupaks said. “We have to keep this fire going the whole season. We’re considering this year one all over again, so we’re building toward year 20.”
More than a game
Last year, the Bucks’ oft-heard slogan was “More than a game.”
This year, they’re explaining what they meant.
“Before, it was about the game on Friday, maybe a giveaway of some sort. In our sales staff, we’re emphasizing we’re not just selling a seat, we’re selling a memory with your family,” Thomson said. “We’re giving people reason to bring their son, daughter or wife and what that can mean for bonding – or with a company, sending an employee out here as an award.
“We had gotten away from that. We were so focused on the hockey, we didn’t sell the benefits of being a season ticket holder for the fans.”
The family message goes beyond the opportunity for an individual family’s shared moment.
The Bucks are also hoping to create a family-like connection between the team and the Laredo community.
“We’ve kind of changed how we did things with that passing commercial with Serge Dube,” Kupaks said. “We were almost gone here for a bit, and some people did lose hope in us. We’re just here to remind people we’re one team and one family, inside and out, and you’ll see that more and more in our marketing campaign.”
A new experience
A slew of changes are being made to the actual game day experience at the LEA to make it a spectacle fans want to come back to.
“We’re adding excitement, like bringing the cheerleaders back,” Kupaks said. “The last time we had the Lady Bucks was two seasons ago, and it was a small edited down group of five or six girls. We’ll have 12 this year.
“We’ll also tweak the game with on-ice interviews and live camera shots from the back of the locker room to hype the crowd for what to expect the next period.”
Thomson said the changes were made as a result of keeping a finger to the pulse of what Bucks fans want to see.
Surveys said the fans wanted cheerleaders, so the Bucks went out and got cheerleaders.
The most noticeable change, however, will come in the form of new seating arrangements.
Announced during the summer, the Bucks will only be selling the arena’s lower bowl seats to create a closer, more densely packed atmosphere.
“With the 8,000 seat bowl, we were too spread out and there wasn’t the excitement,” Thomson said. “The coach and players are excited because the stands will be right on top and it will recreate the energy and atmosphere.”
Thomson and Kupaks said this year will feature more entertainment than years before, despite the rough economy.
Sales are up
The Bucks are already noticing an upswing in ticket sales as a result of their rededicated marketing efforts and promised changes to the game day experience.
“We had a jump in sales at the beginning of the offseason in June,” Thomson said. “I remember the first three days after that, our sales didn’t even close until midnight that Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. People were flooding in to get those seats and show their commitment that they were in.”
Thomson also credited a shakeup of the Bucks’ sales staff, such as the hiring of top ticket sales rep Mike Mariano from the Shreveport Mudbugs.
“He was very highly recruited by other teams,” Kupaks said. “Just like a top player, he was chased by different teams.”
Thomson explained there are three types of ticket buyers: season ticket holders, walk-up buyers and group buyers.
Thanks to Mariano’s proven strategy of targeting individual markets, such as holding a medical community night with discounts to doctors and nurses, everything should lead to a huge boom in group ticket sales, in addition to the already surging season ticket sales.
“Overall, with our new (season ticket holder sales) sales, we’re ahead,” Thomson said. “I’d say we’re about 50 to 60 seats ahead (of this time last year) as far as new sales go, which is a good thing.”
Exhibition on horizon
The first home game of the season may not be until Oct. 28, but fans will have a chance to see the new-look Bucks in action before then when the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees make the drive up to Laredo for an exhibition game on Oct. 14.
The game will also serve as a first trip back “home” for former Bucks head coach Terry Ruskowski, who now leads the Killer Bees.
Kupaks said the Bucks will take advantage of the opportunity to honor the wayward Ruskowski.
“We know we wouldn’t be where we are without Coach Rosco, so we are planning, during the game, to honor him in our little way,” Kupaks said. “I’ll probably drag him out of the locker room. He hasn’t been told about it yet, but I’ll drag him out. He won’t go unrecognized.”
Kupaks and Thomson said the ceremony will serve as the closing celebrating on a chapter of Bucks history.
“There’s a new energy among the fans … I think they’re excited Dube is the coach and turning the corner on a new era,” Thomson said. “That’s why we’re going to be honoring Rosco during the exhibition game, because, once the season starts, it’s about a new era, about Dube, and we’re looking at moving ahead.”
All proceeds of the exhibition game will be donated to United Way benefiting the South Texas Food Bank.
The team will also be collecting food for a food drive.
Tickets will cost $5 for any seat in the house.